Are you afraid of offering your opinion and being judged?
Have you ever felt anxious or uncomfortable about offering your opinion or embarrassed about speaking out? Do you sit in meetings or in a social gathering and avoid expressing an opinion for fear of being negatively judged by others? You are not alone!
Our fear of being judged by society stems from the days when we lived in ‘tribes’ and judgement from the tribe was all that separated you from abandonment or exile. As social creatures we all want to be accepted in society, we fear being rejected and most of us find coping strategies to help us overcome this underlying fear.
However, there are some people whose anxiety is so overwhelming that they will avoid offering an opinion in any context for fear of being judged, shamed or ostracised from their family, friends or peers. Seeking the approval of others at any cost and adopting the behaviour of a ‘people pleaser’ is often rooted in poor self-esteem and a lack of confidence.
How does this develop?
Take a few moments to reflect on the reasons why you may fear being judged or why you feel the need to constantly please people to the detriment of your own needs. What drives this behaviour? The answer will often lie in our early childhood experiences or at school with our peers.
When we are born our survival completely depends upon our caregiver to meet our needs – food, warmth, comfort, physical contact and love/connection. As we grow we become curious about our world around us and start to explore knowing that our caregiver will be there to offer guidance, support and love by managing our safety and emotions. As we continue to grow we start seeing the world through our experiences and forming our own thoughts, opinions and attitudes.
If you were a curious child you may ask lots of questions or push the boundaries, if these questions or boundaries are met with love and respect for one’s opinions, then this will give us a sense of being OK at our core identity. As we grow into adulthood we see the world as a safe place, we build trust and respect, valuing other people’s views and opinions.
If on the other hand our opinions and views are dismissed as the child or met with hostility, judgement and criticism, then our instincts are to recoil for fear of being rejected. We start to think that our opinions are not valued or worth anything and that we shouldn’t speak up – at our core identity we think we are not OK and our greatest human fear is to experience any form of rejection, so much so that it borders on physical pain and this why it hurts us so much.
Being accepted by our family, peers and society is so important to us and we need this to thrive. Throughout human history being accepted and being part of ‘the tribe’ was so important for our survival, therefore if we feared that speaking up or voicing our opinion would lead to rejection we may then become silent and be inauthentic.
This behaviour enables us to hide or be invisible in certain situations in order to avoid the possibility of being judged or criticised by getting it wrong, feeling inadequate or appearing unintelligent. Unfortunately, this behaviour diminishes our uniqueness and masks are our true identity and eventually leads to a feeling of dis-empowerment, failure and social anxiety.
Think about this now:
Were your parents controlling, critical, judgemental or overprotective? Were your views listened to or dismissed as being unimportant? Did you feel that you had to please them all the time to gain their love?
At school did the kids make fun of you or were you the victim of constant teasing or bullying, were you always trying to ‘fit in’ and be accepted?
These early traumatic events may have an impact on the pleaser’s mentality triggering social anxiety over time and self-defeating behaviours.
How can we learn to find our own voice?
Often our internal dialogue (the way we talk to ourselves in our head) we project onto others, for example: if I were to tell myself that I’m stupid and no one wants to hear what I have to say, we then project that statement onto other people and think that is what they are thinking about us. The judgement you pass on yourself is likely worse than any judgements others may make.
Our perception is that we think that other people are more intelligent, knowledgeable or clever than ourselves and we are often running old childhood memories or events from the past when we were shamed or ridiculed by our parents or in class for speaking out.
Changing the way that you think and behave can be scary, especially when you are habitually used to acting and responding one way and haven’t had any practice doing anything else. Acknowledge that your thoughts and opinions have value, and that others won’t know everything and may often value your opinion. After all we all have our own perspective on life based on our experiences and it is good to have diversity. People who are open and non-judgmental thrive on connection and appreciation, not criticism and judgement.
Here are a few things you can do to overcome your fears and to help increase your confidence:
1. Think about your own personal achievements since growing up and how it felt, concentrating on the things that you value about yourself.
2. Use positive body language by remembering a time in the past when you felt very confident and empowered about something that you did, bring up those feelings and anchor them in your body.
3. Remember that everyone is scared of rejection and being judged, so you are not alone and even though others may appear confident this may be an act on their part.
4. When people are judgemental they are often masking a lot of their own insecurities, so take a moment to think about what is going on in them that they feel the need to judge you.
5. Explore the root of your fears, what beliefs do you hold about yourself and why, where has this come from.
6. Be aware of your emotions and when they surface breathe deeply and talk yourself through it by saying: “When was the first time that I can remember feeling this emotion, what was happening in my life?” a memory may surface and you can look at this objectively and ask yourself “What did I learn from this memory that will allow me to let go of the emotions associated to it”.
By allowing these uncomfortable feelings to play out and understand where they originate, they will start to dissipate much more quickly than if you were to avoid them.
7. If you experience failure then this is an opportunity to learn, to do things differently and to grow. Be gentle on yourself and equally celebrate all your achievements.
Remember that change takes time but each time that you learn to speak out, find your voice and have a positive experience you will feel your confidence grow and learn to love yourself!